Juan at Juana! Ready for ECQ Season 4?

by Reinier Navarro

With the latest extension and heightening for a modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) at certain “high-risk areas”, the Duterte administration together with certain local government units (LGUs) are given another 16 days to protect the nation from the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and finally flattening the curve.

The national government prolonging the ECQ for the fourth time is clear evidence that two months are not enough to address the various challenges imposed by this pandemic.

Onting Tiis. It seems that many of our marginalized countrymen are finding ends meet to sustain their families and to protect their own children. © Roi Gregorio

Netizens from our country dubbed this in Twitter as “ECQ Season 4” and “Modified ECQ or MECQ” given that this is the fourth extension of the lockdown of the National Capital Region (NCR) and other “high-risk areas” since the first announcement last March 15.

The initial press conference called by President Rodrigo Duterte this morning enumerated no specific protocols or measures on currently imposed community quarantines in the Philippines.

This afternoon, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque clarified and presented to the public what the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will implement by May 16.

Extending and heightening for a modified ECQ were caused by the evident rise of COVID-19 cases and local transmissions during the lockdowns; this extension is also based on the recommendations of local officials from the Metro Manila Council (MMC).

How did we reach here?

Contentions on the lack of action were blamed on the national government after the budget for Health was slashed by 10 billion pesos last year. This was done even if opposition lawmakers and Health officials already preempted that the country may face a rise of measles cases early this year. 

Warnings on COVID-19 have already been announced since early February as Vice President Leni Robredo suggested the travel ban of arriving flights from China to prevent the start of local COVID-19 transmissions.

The Philippines has no prior law to address concerns when the country is facing a pandemic until more local COVID-19 cases were confirmed.

A special session of the Senate and the House of Representatives produced Republic Act (RA) 11469, also known as the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” last March 23 in order to stipulate the grounds necessary for the national government to combat COVID-19.

Since we are experiencing a pandemic in our midst, the Philippines is under a State of Public Health Emergency. All areas, whether under modified ECQ, modified GCQ, general community quarantine (GCQ), or minimal health standards should take this seriously.

We cannot afford any more negligent elitists who remain ignorant at the expense of our healthcare workers and the vulnerable citizens of the country.

What is disappointing is the fact that the national government puts the blame on our marginalized countrymen who do not have enough means to be updated with the news nor protected from this pandemic. 

A few months ago, netizens slammed selected politicians on social media for undergoing an alleged “VIP testing” as the country needs mass testing with the daily increase of COVID-19 related deaths. The clamor for mass testing became greater in late March of this year after the suicide of a 56-year-old man from Quezon City experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms.

Mass testing by LGUs across the Philippines started gradually since mid-April; stringent requirements and accreditation were to be done by the Department of Health (DOH) to testing sites.

However, speedy action is nowhere to be found until more people called out DOH in social media and Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro echoed remarks of disappointment for the department’s lack of urgency.

Consequently, several hospitals in the country called DOH for help as they needed an additional stock of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other vital medical supplies, given the increase of suspect, probable, and confirmed COVID-19 patients.

Given the guidelines of the ECQ, several establishments and offices remain closed. A majority of the working population in the Philippines need monetary assistance; though the modified ECQ will allow certain industries to resume operations, there will still be a majority of the workforce who cannot return to their jobs yet.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) and private companies worked hand-in-hand towards helping frontliners and the marginalized members of the country as they used social media as an avenue to assist them; hospitals and other health sectors were able to receive the help from these groups and DOH.

Thankfully, other LGUs offered jobs for those individuals who are in need of money. At the same time, the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) gives monetary assistance to citizens in need. Various LGUs also created efforts to further assist those affected families who have no money, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities (PWDs) who need certain essentials.

However, a certain concern gained interest in social media after a set of donations were reclaimed from a hospital for it needs to be “repacked.” Netizens called out a certain government official to not use this pandemic as a time for politics, given President Duterte’s request for everyone to work together to defeat the pandemic.

Other concerns also include why not everyone is getting SAP. Certain barangays called out their LGUs for not prioritizing some citizens and for some officials who are not fair in giving equal SAP. The national government, through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), are currently addressing these even if the deadline for SAP is done.

Despite the clamor to fund local research to allow scientists from our country to find a cure for COVID-19, President Duterte placed a bounty of 10 million pesos for any individual who creates a cure. 40 million pesos were added once the ECQ was extended for the third time.

Though the Duterte administration seems confident that the Philippines can conquer this pandemic within a specific period of time, many eyebrows remain raised as the people find most of the government’s solutions questionable yet impractical for their welfare.

What do we want?

It is true that it is challenging to defeat this pandemic at the same time cater the needs of the people, most especially the vulnerable members of the country; however, the Filipino people implore the national government to be true to its mission by serving the people and listening to what they want. 

We want what is best for our nation.

This is why mass testing should be continued but expanded, especially in areas where they do not have proper health centers. 

Though we have a bird’s eye view of the situation, expanded mass testing can allow the IATF-EID and DOH to better analyze contract tracing of local transmissions and understand if the Philippines is flattening the curve.

For this month, the Duterte administration currently aims to surpass its 8,000 testing capacity daily. Sadly, cases rise daily with the uncertainty of unconfirmed cases around the country.

Though the DOH updates the public with a digital situationer and a virtual presser, why should we not do what other countries in Asia are doing to combat COVID-19? That is by prioritizing mass testing.

A contention that can be raised though is the lack of healthcare workers, hospitals, and accredited testing centers to conduct this nationwide.

This is why the DOH allowed Medical graduates to practice with the guidance of licensed professionals during this time. In return, there are many volunteers, may it be at NCR or other areas, who are willing to help the national government defeat this pandemic.

We need the help of these people more than ever.

We also do not disregard the purpose of the police and the military enforcing discipline throughout various areas in the country. 

However, the killing of Winston Ramos and the assistance of a roaming Chinese national proved that it seems the army or the police play favorites.

This is why it is unnecessary for these units of government to exercise power over our people. 

When necessary, please also seek guidance with healthcare workers especially when you do not know how to handle medical equipment. 

Ensure discipline by all means but never harm the people you are sworn to protect.

As citizens, it is good that a majority of us, especially from the working class, are doing their share of flattening the curve; continue staying at home because this is the best act of gratitude we can give to our frontliners.

Do this because they risk their lives for our safety.

Remember that we have a common enemy so let us not worsen the situation.

We are in limbo. Praying for the best of the nation is not enough anymore.

It is never too late to consider immediate and practical action. This administration clearly had a lot of setbacks but this will be another learning curve for the national government of the Philippines and the people it serves.

DISCLAIMER: Any view or opinion expressed in this article is of the author/s, and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of La Salle Green Hills.

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